By Dr. P. J. Sudhakar
Wetlands are complex ecosystems and encompass a wide range of inland, coastal and marine habitats. They share the characteristics of both wet and dry environments and show immense diversity based on their genesis, geographical location, hydrological regimes and substrate factors. They include flood plains, swamps, marshes, fishponds, tidal marshes natural and man-made wetlands. Among the most productive life support, wetlands have immense socio-economic and ecological importance for mankind. They are crucial to the survival of natural biodiversity. They provide suitable habitats for endangered and rare species of birds and animals, endemic plants, insects besides sustaining migratory birds. India has a wealth of wetland ecosystems distributed in different geographical regions. Most of the wetlands in India are directly or indirectly linked with major river systems such as the Ganges, Cauvery, Krishna, Godavari and Tapti. India has totally 27, 403 wetlands, of which 23,444 are inland wetlands and 3,959 are coastal wetlands. According to the Directory of Asian Wetlands (1989), wetlands occupy 18.4% of the country area (excluding rivers), of which 70 % are under paddy cultivation. In India, out of an estimated 4.1 mha (excluding irrigated agricultural lands, rivers, and streams) of wetlands, 1.5 mha are natural, while 2.6 mha are manmade. The coastal wetlands occupy an estimated 6,750 sq km, and are largely dominated by mangrove vegetation.
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
India is also a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention of Biological Diversity. The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 158 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1758 wetland sites, totaling 161 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Ramsar Convention is the only global environment treaty dealing with a particular ecosystem. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was developed as a means to call international attention to the rate at which wetland habitats were disappearing, due to lack of understanding of their important functions, values, goods and services. Governments which have joined the Convention are expressing their willingness to make a commitment for helping to reverse that history of wetland loss and degradation. In addition, many wetlands are international systems lying across the boundaries of two or more countries, or are part of river basins that include more than one country. The health of these and other wetlands is dependent upon the quality and quantity of the transboundary water supply from rivers, streams, lakes, or underground aquifers. This requires framework for international discussion and cooperation toward mutual benefits. The salient features of Ramsar Convention includes recommendations for monitoring of biodiversity and anthropogenic impact; improvement of the legislation for protection of the wetlands; elaboration of economic mechanisms for the biodiversity protection while in nature management; organisation of new protected areas (Ramsar sites) in Kamchatka region; organisation of work with local population and search for sources of funding.
Conservation of Natural Resources
Nature has provided bountiful resources surrounding us for sustenance of a better life. Thus, any part of our natural environment such as land, water, air, minerals, forest, grassland, wildlife, fish or even human population that man can utilize to promote his welfare, may be considered as Natural Resources. These resources, along with human resources and capital, play a crucial role for expansion to national output which ultimately drives towards economic development. Hence for sustainable development, careful use of the exhaustible resources and maintenance of the quality of renewable resources are needed. For that, certain objectives should be followed. Ecological balance has been defined as “a state of dynamic equilibrium within a community of organisms in which genetic, species and ecosystem diversity remain relatively stable, subject to gradual changes through natural succession.” and “a stable balance in the numbers of each species in an ecosystem.” The most important point being that the natural balance in an ecosystem is maintained. This balance may be disturbed due to the introduction of new species, the sudden death of some species, natural hazards or man-made causes.
Common property resources (CPRs) constitute all such resources which are meant for common use of the villagers. In the pre-British India, a very large part of the country’s natural resources was freely available to the rural population. These resources were largely under the control of the local communities. Gradually, with the extension of state control over these resources, resulting in decay of the community management system, CPRs available to the villagers declined substantially over the years. Nevertheless, it is widely held that CPRs still play an important role in the life and economy of the rural population. The beginning of the studies of the CPRs in India can be traced back to early 1980’s. Some of these studies covered fairly a large number of villages scattered over the vast area of the country but majority of those was of the nature of case studies. Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is a term coined to describe the immense variety and richness of life on this planet. Biodiversity includes not only the many species that exist, but also the diversity of populations that make up a species, the genetic diversity among individual life forms, and the many different habitats and ecosystems around the globe. “Biodiversity is the variety of the world’s organisms, including their genetic diversity and the assemblage they form.” Biodiversity” is most commonly used as species diversity and species richness and as the “totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region”. Biological variety has been identified as species diversity, ecosystem diversity and genetic diversity.
List of Wetlands In India
The wetlands in India are classified as Himalayan wetlands which includes Ladakh and Zanskar Pangong Tso, Tso Morad, Chantau, Noorichan, Chushul and Hanlay marshes, Kashmir Valley including Dal, Anchar, Wular, Haigam, Malgam, Haukersar and Kranchu lakes, Central Himalayas including Nainital, Bhimtal and Naukuchital and Eastern Himalayas having numerous wetlands in Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur, Beels in the Brahmaputra and Barak valley. Indo-Gangetic wetlands are the largest wetland system in India, extending from the river Indus in the west to Brahmaputra in the east. This includes the wetlands of the Himalayan terai and the Indo-Gangetic plains. Coastal wetlands contains the vast intertidal areas, mangroves and lagoons along the 7500 km long coastline in West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra. and Gujarat. Mangrove forests of Sunderbans, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Offshore coral reefs of Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar, Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Deccan Wetland includes a few natural wetlands, but innumerable small and large reservoirs and several water storage tanks in almost every village in the region.
National Wetland Policy
National wetland strategy should encompass (i) Conservation and collaborative management, (ii) Prevention of loss and promotion of restoration and (iii) Sustainable management. These include Protection of the existing wetlands. Of the many wetlands in India, only around 68 wetlands are protected. But there are thousands of other wetlands that are biologically and economically important but have no legal status. Planning, Managing and Monitoring of Wetlands comes under the Protected Area Network have management plans but others do not. It is important for various stakeholders along with the local community and the corporate sector to come together for an effective management plan. Active monitoring of these wetland systems over a period of time is essential. Although several laws protect wetlands there is no special legislation pertaining specially to these ecosystems. Environment Impact Assessment is needed for major development projects and highlighting threats to wetlands need must be included and appropriate measures to be formulated. Coordinated Approach is required because Wetlands are common property with multi-purpose utility; their protection and management also need to be a common responsibility. An appropriate forum for resolving the conflict on wetland issues has to be set up. It is important for all the relevant ministries to allocate sufficient funds towards the conservation of these ecosystems. There is a necessity for research in the formulation of a national strategy to understand the dynamics of these ecosystems. This could be useful for the planners to formulate strategies for the mitigation of pollution. The scientific knowledge will help the planners in understanding the economic values and benefits, which in turn will help in setting priorities and focusing the planning process. Building Awareness is needed. Awareness among the general public, educational and corporate institutions must be created for achieving any sustainable success in the protection of these wetlands. The policy makers at various levels, along with site managers, need to be educated. The bi-lateral cooperation in the resource management needs to be enhanced if country’s wetlands are shared.
National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP)
The Government opertionalized National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP) in closed collaboration with concerned State Government during the year 1986. Under the programme 115 wetlands have been identified till now by the Ministry of Environment and Forests which requires urgent conservation and management initiatives. The aim of this Scheme is Conservation and wise use of wetlands in the country so as to prevent their further degradation. The scheme was initiated to lay down policy guidelines for conservation and management of wetlands in the country; to undertake intensive conservation measures in priority wetlands; to monitor implementation of the programme and to prepare an inventory of Indian wetlands.
Wetlands conservation in India is indirectly influenced by an array of policy and legislative measures. Some of the key legislations are the Indian Fisheries Act, 1857, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Water (Prevention and Control of Pol1ution) Act, 1974, Territorial Water, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other, Marine Zones Act, 1976, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1977, Maritime Zone of India.(Regulation and fishing by foreign vessels) Act 1980, Forest (Conservation Act), 1980, Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 1991, Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 1991, based on UN Convention on Biological diversity 1992, Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was enacted. National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992, National Policy and Macro level Action Strategy on Biodiversity, 1999 are also formulated by Government.
Wetland Management and Sustainable Development
Wetlands are not delineated under any specific administrative jurisdiction. The primary responsibility for the management of these ecosystems is in the hands of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Although some wetlands are protected after the formulation of the Wildlife Protection Act, effective coordination between the different ministries, energy, industry, fisheries, revenue, agriculture, transport and water resources, is essential for the protection of these ecosystems. Environmental management for sustainable utilization is the prime need of the hour. Industrial development with respect to automobiles, chemicals, fertilizers, insecticides, etc., are coming up very fast in India and due to various reasons these are often held responsible for environmental damage. Lack of environmentally educated society, inefficient management, weak law enforcement, corporate greed to earn more profit with less investment can also lead to chemical accidents and causing imbalance in sustainable development.